Lewis on Good and Bad People

Good and Bad People

A friend read my piece concerning what C.S. Lewis said about good and bad people.  For those who did not read it, I will quote again:  “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him.  When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.  A moderately bad man knows he is not very good; a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.  This is common sense, really.  You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly; while you are making them you cannot see them.  You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk.  Good people know about both good and evil; bad people do not know about either.”

Point to ponder:  How do Lewis’s remarks measure up against the views Thomas A. Harris stated in his book, I’m OK, You’re OK ? 

My friend brought up two points that I would like to share with others.  He said that he thought he was ok.  He based this statement on the fact that he lived his life in such a way that he did not hurt anyone.  My reply was, “You are asleep.”  My friend is very much like a lot of people in our culture who see morality only as a negative.  However, there is such a thing as a positive morality.  All morality does not begin with “thou shall not.”  A positive morality is a morality that tells you what you should do.  You should spend time helping the poor, encouraging your friends, etc., in short loving people in a real way.  Morality should not be solely defined by what you should not do.  A cigar store Indian does not do anything wrong, but he also does not do anything right; he does not do anything but take up space.  Doing nothing other than taking up space is sinful.  By sinful I am taking the word “sin” in its uninterrupted sense.  It simply means “to miss the mark.”  We were created for doing good, not for taking up space. Taking up space is to miss the mark.

There also is another problem with thinking that you are ok because you do not break a law or hurt someone.  The reason for your success at your negative morality could simply be that you did not have the need or the opportunity to break the law or hurt someone.  Where is the virtue in that?  The virtue may be in the situation and not in the person.  There is no virtue in being faithful if one is never tempted to be unfaithful.  You do not know where your limits are until they are tested.  A man who prides himself on being faithful to his wife and looks down on other men who are not faithful, may simply be a moralist who never has been tempted by a beautiful woman.  Moreover, he may not have been tempted because God knows that he would fail the test.  We ought to be careful about judging others.  However, to choose one situation over another could in itself be virtuous if a man chose that situation because he knew his weakness and was trying to avoid it by keeping himself from temptation.

My friend, also pointed out that people have different definitions of morality.  However, that does get one out of the pickle that Lewis puts us in, because Lewis is not talking about any specific morality.  If a man is awake, he will become increasingly aware that he does not even live up to his own personal morality and that he is continually lowering or ignoring it to justify himself.  Every time you hear the voice “you ought” and you silence it, the voice gets weaker and you get a little worse. It is a very slow process but if practiced long enough it will kill the voice. LD

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